In this, the second of a 3 part series on trolliing lead core
line, Keith Kavajecz and Gary Parsons cover the tactic
of Contour Trolling.
In the first installment of this series we covered the basic mechanics of fishing lead core. Now its time to get into the nitty-gritty of the actual techniques of this dynamite system. The key here is “control”. Lead core can do so much more than just go deep … it can be utilized to follow contours, changing depth as needed. That’s how Keith used lead core when he won the 2002 PWT Championship.
Since the goal in contour trolling is to keep the bait near bottom, we’re going to start with the “full – lead core” set-up, meaning we’re going fill a reel with lead core line…no backing. We use large capacity line counter reels that will hold ten colors, which is an entire 100 yard spool of 18# lead core line. What ever reel you choose, be sure it has large enough capacity to handle at least this much line.
At the end of the lead core we’ll tie on a 10 foot leader of 10/4 FireLine or 10# test Trilene XT. The leader choice is a very important factor to consider. In situations where we’re fishing a “dirty” bottom, one littered with leaves, wood and other debris, we’ll opt for the FireLine because it makes the entire system, from reel to lure, no-stretch and very sensitive. By running a set-up like this, it is very easy to monitor how the bait’s are running by watching the rod tips as you troll. The vibration put out by the lure’s action is telegraphed up the line to the rod tip, causing it to vibrate. If the lure happens to pick up a leaf or other piece of gunk (which is a frequent problem when trolling near the bottom), its action will be deadened, and the rod tip will quit vibrating. That tells you to reel in the lure, clean off the debris, and get back to fishing. On the other hand, if the bottom where you’re fishing is relatively clean and snags are not much of a concern, that’s when a leader of monofilament like Trilene XT is preferred. Since all that lead core is no-stretch, the mono leader gives the system a nice built-in shock absorber which can come in handy when fighting in big fish.
The rod you use for this type of trolling is also a critical piece of the puzzle. With the lead core being no-stretch, it’s important that the rod can take up some of the shock of fighting in fish. Our favorite rod for this is an 8’ 6″ model in the Walleye Angler Signature Series. It features plenty of backbone yet has a softer tip section that works perfectly for this application.
To best illustrate an example of how we use this set-up for contour trolling, let’s look at how Keith used it to catch walleyes in the upper reaches of Lake Oahe Reservoir in the 2002 PWT Championship. During pre-fishing, we found good walleyes scattered along shallow breaks where the contour went from four feet down to eight feet, then flattened out slightly before dropping off into deeper water. The breaks stretched along the edges of expansive flats and the fish relating to them were scattered along the structure. That made trolling the most logical tactic to contact as many of these fish as possible.
Since the fish were relating to both the top of the break and the bottom of the break, we wanted to be able to cover the entire depth range without having to constantly be reeling in line and letting out line to get the baits where we needed them to be. That’s what made trolling with lead core the way to go. Lead core is very “speed affected”. Because of the line’s bulk, water resistance effects how it runs in the water, so if you speed up your trolling speed, the lead core gets pushed up and runs shallower. On the other hand, if you slow down, the weight of the lead core enables it to drop down and run deeper. Therefore, to cover the 4 to 8 foot depth range we were targeting, we simply needed manipulate our trolling speed depending on what depth we wanted the lures to run. It didn’t take long to figure out that at 3.1 mph the baits would run about 4 feet, and at 1.8 mph they would hit the 8 foot zone.
In the case of the Championship, we were targeting fairly shallow water, but the same technique works on deeper structures too, it’s just a matter of determining how much line you’ll need to let out to hit the desired depths. On Oahe, the set up was to let out 50 feet of lead core (about 2 colors), with a 10 foot leader of 10# FireLine. If you’re targeting a break that goes from 10 to 14 feet, obviously you’ll need to let out more line than that.
One thing that we have determined through years of experience with lead core trolling, is that, more often than not, it works better with smaller crankbaits than it does with larger models. For some reason, the tactic works best on walleyes that are not terribly active, and the smaller lures just seem to trigger more bites.
To be honest, this method of contour trolling is so under-utilized, that we’re sure there’s a ton more to be learned about its versatility and effectiveness. We hope that what you’ve learned here will inspire you to experiment with lead core trolling on your body of water, and we look forward to hearing what your results are.
In the next part of this 3-Part series on trolling with lead core, we’ll discuss techniques for using Segmented Lead Core. It’s a tactic few anglers utilize, but under the right conditions, it’s deadly on walleyes.